Coping with Grief
We would like to offer our sincere support to anyone coping with grief. Enter your email below for our complimentary daily grief messages. Messages run for up to one year and you can stop at any time. Your email will not be used for any other purpose.
Walter James “Jimmy” Fullbright, 77, passed away on October 12, 2023 from what medical professionals term “heart failure.” Jimmy’s heart, however, succeeded in all the ways that matter most.
Jimmy was born on January 3, 1946 to Hazel and Dudley Fulbright and named after his uncle, W.J., who died in the Battle of the Bulge two years prior. “Little Jimmie” reaped all the benefits of being the sole boy child in a grieving family, especially at the hands of his paternal grandmother, Bobbie, who fashioned handmade shirts for him from old flour sacks and showed her love the way the best southern women do: through food. Family lore has it that she cooked him as many as five different meats – including fried chicken – for breakfast.
Jimmy was educated in Richmond County Schools until a (very) brief and somewhat ignominious stint in a military boarding school after which he went to live with his MaMa and PaPa in Appling, Georgia. He attended Thomson High School where he met the best thing to ever happen to him, 15-year-old Elvie Lee Phillips. Following his graduation in 1964, he traveled to Tifton, where he attended Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College and earned a degree in agricultural engineering, and later attended Georgia Southern in Statesboro. During the Vietnam Era, he went through basic training for the National Guard in Fort Dix, N.J., a place so godforsaken that Jimmy uncharacteristically questioned the merits of the military industrial complex and vowed to never live outside the South again.
In 1970, he was hired by John Deere as a finance representative, a job that took him and Elvie, whom he had married in 1968, from Tifton to Troy, Ala., then to Lynchburg, Va. and, finally, to Macon, Ga., where they lived for 35 years. Along the way, they built a life and a family, welcoming Nancy Raye in 1973, James Lee in 1975, and Rebecca Dudley in 1979.
Jimmy worked hard and gave his family everything they ever needed or wanted, and the odometer on his company car provided the proof. Each year, he would drive 50,000 miles up and down the eastern seaboard as Deere’s territory manager, calling on customers and serving as the liaison between dealers and the company. But even with all that travel and time spent away from home, he was a remarkably present father. Whether his children were involved in piano recitals, swim meets, or church choral presentations, he was there for all of the pivotal, key moments in their lives. He had a swimming pool built at the family’s Macon home – complete with a diving board and curved, daredevil slide colored an untraditional yellow rather than the ubiquitous sky blue – and was as much of a kid as his own children when it came to horseplay in the water.
He worked for John Deere for 30-plus years, retiring in 2000. In fact, his persona was so enmeshed with the Moline, Ill.-based equipment manufacturer that one of his grandchildren posited that if PopPop were a superhero, he would be “Tractor Guy.” Eventually, he and Elvie moved back home to Appling to “the farm,” and enjoyed the fruits of their labor, namely their grandchildren: Noel and Walter Hixson, and triplets Janie, W.J., and Levi Fullbright.
Jimmy lived large and loved big, and there are countless family stories that attest to this. When his children left home for college, he sent every one of them a card once a week during their freshman year to make them smile, cheer them up, encourage them during exam time, and, most importantly, remind them they were loved. He single handedly kept Hallmark and the U.S. Postal Service afloat during the ’90s.
Jimmy also fancied himself as a connoisseur of all things barbecue — meaning pork, of course. He had a grill dubbed the “Hog-o-Matic” that could cook 100 chickens or a whole hog at once and there was nothing he loved more than cooking for friends, family, and customers all over the southeast. Once while visiting Memphis, he dined at the iconic Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous and was less than impressed. Flummoxed, the waiter asked Jimmy if he’d ever had better ribs to which Jimmy flatly responded, “Pit Stop. Tifton, Ga.” Not to be outdone, the waiter snidely countered with, “Well, Rendezvous has been in Memphis since 1948. Have you ever been to an older barbecue establishment?” Jimmy snapped back, “Yeah. Fincher’s. Macon, Ga. 1935.”
Most of all, though, Jimmy was the consummate southern raconteur, holding fast to one simple rule: don’t ever let the truth get in the way of a good story. A good friend of his once remarked that while he’d heard his stories over and over, Jimmy told them the same way every time so they must be true.
Often when telling stories, and as a way to rib the listener, he was fond of quoting a line from an old Carter Family song: “You’re going to miss me when I’m gone.” Indeed, we will, but we take heart in the fact that he ran the race that was set before him with great endurance and bravery. And at that heavenly finish line, he will finally embrace his beloved MaMa and PaPa, his mother, his father, his Aunt Vivian, and his daughter, Rebecca, who preceded him in death in 2014.
At times, Jimmy was known to let his mouth overload his ass – as we are all prone to do from time to time – but at the end of the day, he cherished his friends and family, including his wife of 55 years, Elvie Phillips Fullbright; his daughter Nancy Fullbright and husband, Peter Hendy of Savannah; his son Lee, wife, Julie, and their children, Janie, W.J., and Levi, all of Appling, Ga.; his grandchildren Noel Hixson of St. Louis, Mo. and Walter Hixson and their father, Leon Hixson, both of Soddy Daisy, Tenn.; and sister-in-law Faye Phillips Nunn and her husband, Randy of Mineral Wells, Texas. Jimmy will also be missed by his four-legged friends: Ollie Mae the dachshund, Angelina the one-eyed cat, and Barney the possum.
The family would like to extend their heartfelt appreciation and love to the care team at Brandon Wilde and Regency SouthernCare Hospice for the great care they took of the Fullbright patriarch during his last lap around the sun.
Although the burial will be private, family and friends are invited to gather, tell stories, and eat barbecue in honor of Jimmy from 11:00 AM until 1:00 PM on Saturday, October 21, at the Fullbright Family Barn.
And when you’re telling stories about Jimmy, just remember it’s not lying, it’s embellishing.